Sunday, January 29, 2012

Age matters only in the Indian Army

By Josy Joseph, 
General Peter Jan Schoomaker retired from active service in December 2000. His last posting was as the chief of the prestigious US Special Operations Command. Almost two-and-a-half years after he retired, Gen Schoomaker was recalled to head the US Army in August 2003. 

Sounds strange? In the Indian military it is almost unthinkable to appoint a retired general as the chief of army. In India, this would upset the laid-down order of succession, and scuttle the hopes of many officers down the line. 

So what about merit? In this whole controversy sparked by Gen V K Singh's age, that issue is not being debated at all. The fact is that Indian military chiefs are no longer selected on the basis of merit. The only thing that counts is their age. As merit takes a backseat, the fight in the Ministry of Defence is all about ensuring that favourites are suitably placed in the line of promotion on the basis of their date of birth. 

Now, however, many within the ranks are beginning to question the obsession with age. "It is absurd. When you are 15 or 16 you apply for NDA. Should the fact of being younger than others decide whether one should be military chief or not? It is laughable," says a serving army general. "Let's say two of us join NDA together, and we get promotions at the same time. All through the service I may have excelled in my work, but if I were a day younger, it is you who gets to become the chief," he says. 

A senior Air Force officer points out that Colin Powell, one of the most outstanding American military chiefs of all time, was 28th or so in seniority when he was appointed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "What should matter is the tenure of service and merit," he says. 

In the years following Independence, when Jawaharlal Nehru was prime minister, the government did go by merit while selecting service chiefs. An officer recalled that Arjan Singh was appointed Air Force chief at 45. "It was a tenure fixed for five years," he says. So there was no 'fixed' line of succession at that time. 

That has changed. The reason date of birth has become the main factor is that top officers are growing timid, refusing to take risks. "Once you become a brigadier or major general, you have a fair idea who would be chief or not. From then on the hopefuls start playing safe ," says an officer. 

Both the Navy and Air Force have adopted selection policies which create a small group of 'aristocrats' among the officer cadre early in service, from whom the chiefs generally come. These officers invariably have done select tenures, such as being on the personal staff of senior commanders. In the Navy, an officer points out, many of these 'aristocrats' does not serve enough time at sea or other tough postings. "As a result, our preferred officers do not have enough exposure to the battlefield. They are all fundamentally being groomed, and biding time, to take on senior appointments. And a few of them do become chiefs," says a Navy officer. 

The net result of such skewed policies is that the day on which one is born has become the most crucial factor in deciding who commands one of the world's biggest armies. 

Not surprisingly, many are closely watching how this court battle over Gen VK Singh's age ends. Will he retire on May 31, 2012, and let A, B and C become chief over the next six-seven years. Or will he retire on March 31, 2013, and allow X, Y and Z to succeed him? Either way, the military doesn't seem to benefit from this kind of thinking. In this unfolding drama, merit is likely to be the only casualty.

By the courtesy of Times of India, Ahmedabad edition 

1 comment:

  1. The article written by Mr. Josy Joseph in plain English is excellent. It speaks clearly the fundamental weakness in the system in the appointments of Generals, Admirals and Air-Marshals, which allows possibly most of these appointments are not based on merits but purely for those who can lobby better or have more connections or the gospel truth is those can pass on HEAVY BROWN ENVELOPS to the right persons.

    I would like to add here further, that, right from 1947, the selections of Generals of the Army have been manipulated on the basis of race. Nehru and Congress always had inbuilt fear, that, a Sikh general would go for a Coup and they always preferred South Indian generals in preference to others. Lt General Harbaksh Singh and Lt General JS Arora most probably would have Generals without doubt if fairness was there in terms of selections. This only changed after JJ Singh became General 60 years after independence though some have serious doubts of his financial integrity.

    I personally have seen the most damaging and demoralising effects on forces, that, promotions based on castes and religion have caused.

    Major General A P S Chouhan could possible give some outstanding opinions on this matter.

    A selection of a Lance Naik even should be based on merits let alone a General. The nation need to be made aware of it and system need to be changed in the best interest of the country and nation.

    Thank you,

    Amit Bhadhuri